Sierra and Infocom

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    • #21325 Reply

      Hello all:

      I’ve been trying to do some research on the landscape of early American computer gaming, and I’ve hit a few stumbling blocks that I hope the old hounds around here, and perhaps even Ken himself, could help me clear up.

      I recently been reading what few academic texts exist on early computer gaming, and most of them are tremendously Infocom focused, and address Sierra as just a low-level competitor with no significant merit in the history of interactive fiction besides the production of Mystery House and KQ1.

      This has always struck me as a bit off, for a number of reasons I won’t go into here. But it has left me wondering…what exactly was the relationship between Infocom and Sierra? They were founded in the same year, produced the same genre of games, and yet in the academic press, Infocom gets all the treatment. Was Infocom looked at as a competitor? Are there any statistics or articles available concerning respective sales or distribution volumes? Did the leaders of Sierra ever have contact with the leaders of Infocom (or of LucasArts, for that matter)? I’m trying to get a better grasp of what this business environment looked like in the early-to-late 80s, and if anyone could help me fill in the blanks regarding the relationship between these companies, it would be tremendously useful.

      And, for the sake of transparency, I am a PhD candidate at a U.S. university, and my dissertation will most likely address computer technology and the domestic space in the 1980s. The history of these early games is an important piece of my work, and any info I get will be useful in composing an image of that time period for my academic work. I would of course follow up with any respondent before using any information they have provided.

      Thanks for any assistance you can provide!

    • #21326 Reply

      Greetings Laine.

      There was never any formal relationship between Sierra and Infocom. Our staffs were friendly with each other, and I hung out with their senior management from time to time, but we were never connected in any way.

      It has been 30 years, so my memory is somewhat cloudy on all of this.. but…

      My recollection is that they were slightly ahead of us in the market, and had the early momentum. At one time they were on top of the world, and considered us a minor annoyance. I recall them once having something like six of the top ten products. We loved their games, and thought their success was well deserved.

      They received perhaps more recognition than us, in the academic world, because they did games that were arguably less mass market and more cerebral. They used words, and we used pictures. Ultimately, we did grab all the marketshare, but it’s really not as simple as that.

      Infocom’s management wanted to make accounting software, not games. While we were pushing hard to do better and better games, they were downplaying games to focus on their business software (I forget the name of it). They took their eye off the ball, and we grabbed their customers. The business software, and its failure, crippled Infocom, and I don’t remember them really being a force after that. Lucasfilm gave us much more competition in the years that followed.

      I may remember more if you freshen my memory…

      -Ken Williams

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